The Art of Abseiling in Wilderness, South Africa

woman abseiling in wilderness

The Art of Abseiling in Wilderness, South Africa

Also referred to and used interchangeably with the term “rappel” abseiling comes from a German word meaning “to rope down” which is the controlled descent from a vertical drop, usually a rock face, using a series of ropes. Often used by climbers, this technique is handy when a slope makes it difficult or too dangerous to descend without protecting themselves. Another reason to abseil is to protect their anchors from damage, and rope access techs use this to get to difficult to reach areas from above for all kinds of industrial uses like construction, welding, inspection or general maintenance. It’s also a common method used by rescue teams as a way to get to stranded or injured fall victims.

Abseiling began with Jean Charlet-Straton (1840-1925), who was a ski resort guide. He needed a technique to rope down during a failed attempt of Petit Dru in 1876. He made many more attempts, a few done solo before finally managing to reach the summit in 1879 while with two other resort guides Prosper Payotk and Frédéric Folliguet, hired for the mission. While doing that ascent, Charlet perfected the fine art of the abseil. With many applications in modern day many people have taken it as a sport or a thrill seeking adventure activity, and all report back that it gets the adrenaline pumping and really makes you feel alive. There are tips for anyone interested in pursuing abseiling solo at any point, as well as short videos showing “how-to” and to give an idea of what it really looks like from an abseilers point of view.

Because it can be dangerous, it is always advised unless you are an expert climber and have abseiled before on your own, to use a company who will provide all the gear and equipment you will need for your venture down, and in Wilderness that company is Eden Adventures conveniently located right by 5 star rated Cinnamon Guest House so you can enjoy all the thrills of the area in one convenient location. While the company will provide you with everything you need for your trip down, it might be good to find out the things you should be looking for, precautions, and tips on what you should wear so that your descent is nothing but a thrill and a ton of fun.

Abseiling in Wilderness involves a trip down the Kaaimans Gorge where you can do two 45m abseils right next to a gorgeous waterfall. The first abseil is easy and gets you used to the ropes and sets up the trust necessary to take on the second, which is more technical but so much fun. At the bottom is a canoe that you land in, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never done this before, or have done it hundreds of times, the exhilaration factor does not change, and there’s few places more beautiful to do this than along this Gorge.

Every abseiling company uses their own technique, but all are safe. A few of the better known techniques are listed here:

  • Australian rappel – descending while facing down
  • Tandem rappel – two climbers descending on the same belay device, usually done in rescue situations if a climber is unconscious or the descent must be quick. The setup is very similar to regular rappelling where the first climber is girth hitched into the descender on the carabiner, and has an auto-block from belay loop of the harness to the rope as a backup to prevent any falls. The second rappeller is similarly hitched.
  • Simul rappel – two different rappellers on two strands of rope running through anchors, where both descend at the same speed and are anchored to each other to avoid one going ahead.
  • Counterbalance rappel – A leader uses this method to reach someone who is injured. The leader rappels off one strand of rope, using the seconds weight on the other rope as a counterbalance.
  • Releasable abseil – typically used by guides for inexperienced abseiler, a rope is setup by anchoring it with a munter hitch and locking off the non-rappelling strand of rope. The client descends on the non-locked strand (the free strand) and the guide unlocks the other strand to lower the client if they should get into trouble or lose footing.
  • Classical rappel – The most dangerous variety, and used only in the most dire of circumstances, it is a descent without any mechanical aids by wrapping the rope around the body, and was used before harnesses and hardware were made available for safety.
  • South African classical abseil – This method is a double rope technique that is far safer and provides better body support than other classical abseils.
  • Fireman’s Belay – a method that is used to backup a partner abseiling by having one on the ground who is able to pull down on the rope from below to halt the descent. It’s a useful tool for inexperienced abseilers.

If you go for the first time and feel the waterfall mist next to you, plunk down into the canoe at the bottom and find you cannot wipe away the smile from your face, you may want to look into learning how to go about doing it on your own or with a friend, and the best way to do so is to research methods to ensure you get it right. Luckily with experienced companies like Eden Adventures, there is very little risk to any clients, and a whole lot of promise for a memorable time in one of the most beautiful destinations to be found anywhere along the Garden Route in South Africa.

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